How Much Stuff Do I Have?
Let’s face it. When our preps get to be more than just a few day’s worth of food and related items, remembering what we have gets to be a chore. As the inventory gets even larger, remembering expiration dates and item locations can be overwhelming. Pen & paper and spreadsheets can help, but wouldn’t something like what the supermarkets use be nice to have? How can we quickly scan-in and scan-out things into some kind of easy-to-use inventory system?
Enter Prep & Pantry
Prep & Pantry is an iPhone app (Droid coming soon) designed to assist in keeping your food and non-food stuff inventoried. When you need to quickly see if a particular item is on the shelf, Prep & Pantry has the scoop. You can easily pull up information alphabetically, by 5 different levels of expiration or by physical location. You can even *tag* items with a name and find them that way. These functions make organizing and look-up easy.
P&P is the creation of one of us preppers. Doug’s approach to making this whole thing work was to make use of the barcodes found on just about everything. The camera in your iPhone or iPad is used as a scanner. After the camera reads the barcode, the app looks up the item in a database. If found, it will come back with the name and size or weight. This makes the initial inputting of information so much easier. A good portion of what we stock here in The Keep isn’t in the huge database of common goods. AlpineAire™, Mountain House™ and some others are yet to be categorized. But just about everything found in a grocery store is in there, and pops up on the screen almost instantly. When you take an item off the shelf, you scan it then as well, and this reduces the inventory on hand. Scan in. Scan out. Keep track of your inventory and save a lot of hassle. By doing things this way, Doug’s little app helps keep waste to a minimum.
When I started using Prep & Pantry, I began by creating our initial inventory. This entailed scanning everything sitting on four of our six foot racks. It doesn’t look like much until you go through every single item. I wanted to get to the point where all I was doing was scanning in new items as we acquired them, and scanning out what we used. But that would have to wait until I had it all in the app. Here is where its speed came into play.
What I Wanted and How I Did It
I wanted to track the following about each food product:
- Name and package weight
- Expiration date (if any)
- Location (kitchen ready-use pantry, main pantry, BOBs, etc.)
- Food type (pasta, dry, meat, veggie, etc….)
- Food package (freeze dried, dehydrated, canned, foil pouch, etc….)
For instance, rather than just throw a can of Costco Refried Beans on the shelf and tick off “1 of” on a yellow note pad, I wanted to see:
- Name “Coscto Refreid Beans”
- Weight “14.5oz”
- Expiration “April 13, 2013″
- Type “Beans Refried”
- Location “Bedroom Pantry”
Scanning Items In
Prep & Pantry’s initial screen provides easy access to just about everything. Barcode scanning, List choices, Shopping Cart, App Settings and Sync options. The major choices right off the bat are “Add Items” and “Remove Items”. The default is “Add”. Select one or the other and tap “Scan Barcode”. You’ll get a lot of practice with the scanner during your initial input. It sure saves a lot of time compared to typing!
You will notice the Add Items and Remove Items buttons near the bottom. The main screen changes colors to reflect which mode you are in. In the picture to the left, it is in green, or Add mode.
For items with damaged and unreadable barcodes, you may manually enter the numbers into the field above the scan image. Some of the items we recently inventoried had no code at all. So, in some cases we typed in a phone number found on the package or can. If you want, you can make up your own number and write it on the can. Just type into the field.
When using the scanner, the screen changes into camera mode with a pair of blue brackets superimposed. Make sure the barcode sits within the brackets, and the camera will automatically focus and scan. The scan is done as soon as the camera settles on it, so you don’t have to press any buttons. You point. It shoots!
One note regarding the scanning function. The iPhone camera is flawless, and focuses very quickly. In some cases, it is faster than the laser scanners I’ve used at work. With an iPad 2, the camera runs slowly in low light. A bright light does help with this. My iPad 2 did okay with a light set to the side. The other issue is the iPad2 camera itself. The issue isn’t the P&P app, but rather the type of camera used in the iPad2. I tried a couple other similar scanner apps on it, and they didn’t do nearly as well. Prep & Pantry’s scanning module seems to be more adept at its job than others. Doug is working on a different module to help iPad users take advantage of the app’s power. I’m watching for that one….
The Item Viewer provides quite a bit of information. Name, Notes (that you add for your use), Tag, potential Coupons, Minimum Quantity and Stocking Level, and Expiration. The example to the left is one of our items. Honeyville Farms™ doesn’t come up in the database. The information on name, weight and can are what I entered in myself. Below that information is the numeric result of the barcode scan I attempted. It is still included within the Item Info even if there is no record found in the lookup database.
I left the Note section blank. It is useful for special items or information, but I used it rarely.
Then comes the Tag field. I used this much more than Doug anticipated. In fact, by expanding its use, we ran into a couple issues. I’ll warm you right now, do not use any commas in your tags. They won’t register well! In this pic, you see “Corn, Freeze Dried” This is not an example of commas in Tags. It is the use of two tags used for one item. Since we stock corn as canned and freeze dried, I used two tags to further identify which type this is.
We are not using Minimum Quantity just yet. This is very useful, though, for items that you use and replenish regularly. If you need to have a certain minimum of canned soup on hand, and need to be able to get more before you run out, then Minimum Qty will help by placing things in your “shopping cart” for future reminders.
Looking Things Up
So, you are in the store shopping for a few things and see something on sale on an end cap. “Do I have any baked beans?” Switching to List view provides you with a few ways to check that out fast. You’ll see a few things in this picture. First, is a listing for Homestyle Baked Beans. This item was entered into inventory by a successful database lookup. But the name begins with “Homestyle”. If you were looking for Baked Beans, you might miss it. I suppose we could have changed the name around when the item was initially scanned, but then the label wouldn’t match up. So how do we find it, and keep the listing as original? Look at the top of the picture. You’ll see A-Z, Exp, Location and Tag. A-Z is the APP’S mode in the pic. In this mode, everything is listed alphabetically by name. Touching the letters on the right of the screen takes you to that section quickly, but it won’t help you find a specific item each time. This is where Tags come in.
Each item can be assigned a descriptive tag that you create. I went a little overboard. Since I like the military way of naming things, I created my tags in a hierarchy. An example is: “Beans kidney” and “Beans pinto”. I want to be able to find all my beans in one place, and also specific beans. If I used “Kidney beans” and “Pinto beans”, I would have to remember which types of beans I had when searching for stocking levels, and search in K and P and B etc…. I might forget a few. Naaa, I KNOW I’d forget a few. Now I just look for beans and they all show up.
You may add any tags you wish, order them in any way you want, and each item may have multiple tags assigned to it.
I found that some inventory systems do not allow for separating items by physical locations. We have more than one pantry, a few BOBs, some first aid kits and other collections that are not yet in Prep & Pantry. If we didn’t have a way of breaking things down to individual locations, it would be hard to see where certain items actually are. We would know we had them, but not where. Location solves that. On the left are some of our initial setups. The names have been blotted to protect the guilty.
In case you were wondering about that “List” pic at the bottom with the red tag number… that is the Expired item warning. It tells us that we have 23 items that are expired. When I setup the initial inventory, we had some old items. I entered in their expiration dates as listed as a baseline. Some of them are actually fine, but this reminds us to pay attention to them. We knew we had some things that were aging, but we didn’t know just how many. P&P solved that mystery for us – automatically.
Settings is where you can make quite a few changes. I won’t go into detail here except to mention that this screen is very powerful. You control how the app goes about its business and how intricate the Location and Tag functions work. View Option allow you chose your List View, Date Format and Icon Badge options. Icon Badge controls whether you see the Expire Item count and Shopping List item count as badges on the main screen.
At the bottom right, you have probably seen the “Sync” option. Sync allows for the database to be stored on a server. At first I had a HUGE problem with this idea. After all, who want their database stored where someone can read it? Doug explained to me that the database in encrypted at each end, and that it is not linked to anything other than a generic “group name”, that YOU choose. So, I created a unique group name and password. Syncing isn’t a necessity, though. You can do without it at all, but if your database is lost on your iPhone, there is no way to get it back – and your work is gone. This is a way to back it up. We have this app loaded on two separate devices, and Sync automatically updates both of them when a change is made on any one of them. So, no one specific device has to be used to keep things up to date. Since both are part of the same group, they are mirrors of each other.
I asked Doug for a way to have the database sharing located on a local PC. My home PC would be the preferred Sync provider. He says this might be possible down the road. I would welcome it from a security standpoint. If this were to come about, large numbers of people in a sizable organization would be able to share and update amongst themselves, and control access without relying on a distant server. I’m keeping my eyes open for it.
Do I have any issues with P&P aside from the Sync setup? Nope. It works for me! I recommend it to anyone with a need for detailed inventory control and planning. Don’t forget… it’s not only food that can be categorized. Anything can be used with this as long as you provide some sort of label. Your imagination is your only limit.
Get Prep & Pantry at the App store.